Social Isolation, is it New?
It is a scientific fact that strong relationships have great effects on a person’s mental health.
Unfortunately, in this new age of COVID-19 and social distancing, many people are talking about how they are feeling isolated from their friends and family. And for people already without strong support systems, this feeling is all too common.
But is being socially isolated a new concept? Not at all, feelings of social isolation are common among many groups of people.
Some common groups that tend to isolate themselves are the elderly, empty nest parents, single parents, teenagers not in school, and caregivers.
And we're not saying these are the only people who live with social isolation–these are just some of the more commonly noted trends.
That being said, not every method of coping with social isolation is going to work for every person. And not everyone is going to experience the same side effects of social isolation.
So what are some Common Side Effects of Social Isolation?
After talking with a few licensed mental health clinicians, they shared with me some common side effects they noticed in their practices. These include:
Decreased motivation and lack of follow-through
Feeling “not good enough” or “something is wrong with me”
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and some people may experience any combination of these side effects, or even none at all.
Best coping methods
So what are the best ways to cope with social isolation?
I asked some of the clinicians at Telebehavioral Health.US to share with me some of the ways they help their patients cope with their symptoms. And like I said, some methods are better for certain people and no one’s therapy is exactly the same, so be sure to use this information in a way that works best for you.
Everyone knows the teenage years can be some of the hardest and most formative years of anyone’s life. So many things are changing, from transitioning from middle school to high school, or going from high school to college, lots of big things are happening.
These changes can make teens feel as if they are alone and no one understands them.
This is even more relevant when students go on breaks from school and are no longer around their friends everyday. In the age of social media, you may think how can anyone, especially teens, feel so alone when they have constant communication at their fingertips. While this helps some people, others may not be fans of social media and prefer the face-to-face interactions found in what used to be a typical school day.
To cope with social isolation, it could be helpful for teenagers to do virtual calls with their friends on Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or any other video chatting platforms.
They could also call a loved one or their friends just to chat. It may be uncomfortable, but considering reconnecting with old friends and old friend groups could be extremely beneficial.
"I encourage people to engage in as many senses as possible. Facetime or video chat is better than calls, but calls are better than texts, etc.," says therapist Teresa Hurtgen, LMSW.
Often, parents can find themselves feeling isolated from the rest of the world. They may no longer feel they can relate to their non-parent friends. They may be having new feelings of being in an “empty nest”, being single, or widowed. Parents who share custody of children and are required to socially distance and not see their children for months also tend to feel more alone.
Dan Cooke, LMSW, CAADC, ADS, another one of our therapists, suggests that some of the best ways for parents to cope with with social isolation are similar to coping mechanisms for teenagers and young adults.
Video chatting with friends and family can bring parents closer to their loved ones similarly to seeing them in person.
Also, it is useful to use groups they are a part of as a means of social interaction. This includes AA groups, NA groups, support groups for single and widowed parents, or any other regular meetings they attend.
It’s also recommended that they search for safe connections in places where most of their social interactions occur, such as work or school.
We all know grandma and grandpa aren’t usually the most tech-savvy people in our lives, and I bet almost everyone has a funny story about one of their grandparents trying to figure out how to use their own cell phones.
As funny as this can be, it puts the elderly at a disadvantage in finding ways to not feel socially isolated.
The best way for the elderly to deal with social isolation is a little more old-school. Elderly people tend to feel more isolated when they have limited mobility issues and have to rely on other people for their daily tasks.
For the elderly, things such as taking a walk in your neighborhood and just being present in the moment can be very beneficial.
Saying hi or just waving to your neighbors can help tremendously, and this is not just for the elderly.
Even reaching out of their comfort zone and joining a class where they can do one of their hobbies is a great opportunity to cope with social isolation.
So you’re an introvert, but you’re feeling isolated
It’s a tough feeling to describe, but feeling like you’re alone and also wanting some sort of human interaction, but you just can’t get yourself out there to do it, can be very mentally draining. Luckily there are some useful ways to try and alleviate the anxiety that comes with this conflict.
For example, bringing a close friend or family member with you to social gatherings for additional support or comfort can make the experience way more enjoyable.
Trisha Waun, LMSW made a great point by saying “you could also try role-playing any hang ups that might make it anxiety-provoking to step outside of your comfort zone to help eliminate fears and increase confidence.”
Joining an online forum can be extremely beneficial as well because it puts the ball in their court, and allows them to engage with people when they are prepared for it.
Socially isolated while social distancing
Times are a little crazy right now with COVID-19 running around and all these new social distancing measures in place.
Some places are starting to ease up on these guidelines, and some regions may have to lock down again if there are spikes in cases, and we can never be too careful!
Luckily, some of the best ways to deal with feeling socially isolated during quarantine are similar to those when we are not social distancing.
Taking a walk has been seen to have huge benefits for people feeling socially isolated during these times, especially now since people are coming together to fight for causes of social, economic, political, and racial injustice worldwide.
We're seeing more people at home walking together, walking their dogs, children drawing with sidewalk chalk outside, etc. All of this can be just a little light in what seems to be dark times for most. Teresa Hurtgen, LMSW even suggests that “a lot of younger people are staying in touch via video games right now on games from Call of Duty all the way to Animal Crossing.”
Also, if you had regular times you met with your friends before quarantine, set up a similar time to hangout virtually!
And if you didn’t before, it’s never too late to start doing that now!
Basically, it is just super important to adapt your pre-quarantine routine to as close of a new routine as possible.
Najean Lucky, LMSW, a clinical social worker for us here at Telebehavioral Health.US mentioned the importance of people who are not as tech-savvy still needing to find a way to have safe social interactions in the form of small gatherings or “snail mail”.
Feeling socially isolated can be extremely draining, but if you’re feeling up to it, there are ways to combat these feelings.
And certainly reach out to us to speak with one of our licensed therapists!